Just when old talk of human rights in China is being upstaged by what fake news Trump is tweeting, comes this chilling epic returning us to the brutal putdown of the Tiananmen Square student protests.
Lucy Kirkwood’s play follows an American photojournalist trying decades later to find what happened to the young Chinese man who, with his plastic bags of shopping, defiantly stood down those tanks in 1989.
Chimerica is a three hour saga, an intricate mix of many personal subplots, corporate settings and nasty bilateral economic politics. While it eddies sometimes into unnecessary confusion, Kip William’s kinetic direction drives it ever onwards across David Fleischer’s bare stage and spinning revolve, the action etched out by Nigel Schlieper’s down and sideways spotlighting.
Supplementing Williams’ cast are 20 NIDA students, dynamically choreographed and bringing the gravitas of an operatic chorus to Chimerica’s huge themes. At its best, it recalls the sort of festival fare staged by Robert Lepage.
Chimerica also puts centrestage a host of agile Asian Australian actors, including Monica Sayers, Anthony Brandon Wong and, as Joe’s heroic but fatefully abandoned friend in Beijing, Jason Chong. As Joe, the photographer, Mark Leonard Winter brings a relentless intensity which helps propel the story but leaves his moral vanity unexplored.
Geraldine Hakewill shines as Joe’s quirky British girlfriend researching new Chinese customers, and it’s a strong support cast with the likes of Rebecca Massey and Tony Cogin.
Kirkwood’s occasionally blustering characters don’t always serve the precision of her themes but there are enough gotcha moments of real world politics and conspiracy to give this important play an enduring depth and excitement.
Images (from top): Charles Wu and Jenny Wu; Geraldine Hakewell and Mark Leonard Winter, and the cast of Sydney Theatre Company’s Chimerica. © Brett Boardman